Paul Simon, the multiple Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter, just released his first album in five years, "So Beautiful or So What" and it's a dandy. Simon opens his North American tour in Seattle Friday at WaMu Theater and plays a sold-out show Sunday at Showbox at the Market.
In his classic, “Mrs. Robinson,” Paul Simon reached across the “generation gap” to imagine what one adult felt like in the ’60s, as young people shredded the known world.
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” he asked, sneaking into Mrs. Robinson’s head. “A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
It was a brilliant image, emblematic of a songwriter who has a short-story writer’s sensibility and who has become — like DiMaggio himself — a symbol of quality, dependability and maturity in an era of disposable pop culture.
Fitting, then, that Simon honors the 20th birthday of another enduring institution, Seattle radio station 103.7 The Mountain KMTT. Simon opens his North American tour Friday at WaMu Theater and also plays a sold-out show Sunday at Showbox at the Market.
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Simon is “the quintessential Mountain artist,” said morning jock John Fisher, who has been with the station 19 of its 20 years, in a conference call that also included program director Dave Benson. “He didn’t just go out on the road and hash out Simon and Garfunkel songs.”
“Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, Paul Simon, those are core artists of this radio station,” said Benson. “They didn’t just circle up the wagons. They kept open to new music.”
Indeed. After gaining fame as a folky singer-songwriter, Simon reinvented himself by embracing the rhythms of South African mbaqanga. The result was the 1986 album “Graceland,” one of three that have snagged Simon Album of the Year (“Still Crazy After All These Years” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” are the other two) and 12 that have won Grammy Awards. Since then, Simon has continually expanded his vocabulary, weaving reggae, calypso, zydeco and all manner of world rhythms around his infectious, folk-rock melodies and pithy, succinct lyrics.
Simon has not only won awards but the respect of his peers. The liner notes for his excellent new album, “So Beautiful or So What” (Hear Music), his first in five years, were written by none other than Elvis Costello.
“I believe that this remarkable, thoughtful, often joyful record deserves to be recognized as among Paul Simon’s very finest achievements,” wrote Costello. The album has some real keepers. Four — “Rewrite,” “Questions for the Angels,” “Dazzling Blue” and “The Afterlife” — are currently being played on The Mountain (see a recent album review at www.seattletimes.com).
Surviving 20 years in radio is no mean feat, much less perching in the top 10 for adult listeners, but The Mountain has usually managed to do so. (Though the numbers can change dramatically. In spring 2008, KMTT hit No. 1; that summer, it plunged to No. 16.) The Mountain has succeeded by targeting a mainly white, boomer audience (strongest demographic: 35-64 years old) that craves its Clapton, Stones and Fleetwood Mac, but also doesn’t freak when Eddie Vedder, Adele or Coldplay pop up.
“It never ossified into an oldies format,” said Benson. “Most radio stations are either all new music or all old music. This format was founded on the idea that we love the music we grew up with but we haven’t stopped loving music.”
The Mountain officially characterizes its format as “acoustic, electric, classic, eclectic” — but mellow rock is close to the mark. Such middle-of-the-road fare traditionally has been scorned by young, cutting-edge Seattleites, but, ironically, millenials recently have embraced a species of Americana that sounds suspiciously like the music their parents listened to. Fleet Foxes, The Head and the Heart, Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers all air on The Mountain, and, not surprisingly, they fit right in. That’s probably why KMTT also shows up 12th in the local market for listeners 25-54.
Are teenagers tuning in?
No, says Benson, but no big deal.
“We’ve got their parents,” he said, and that can translate into future listeners. “We meet people in their late 20s and early 30s who tell us, ‘My parents listened to this, and I’m just starting to get it.’ “
Don’t be surprised, then, if you see a lot of parents with children at the show. That famous generation gap between Dustin Hoffman and Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” may not be so wide between the generations today.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org